Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome

Earlier this week, we saw Sunset Boulevard at the Birmingham Hippodrome. You can find my review here. Before seeing the show, we decided to test out the Hippodrome’s own eatery, the Circle Restaurant.

The restaurant offers a pre-theatre menu, from two hours before curtain up, and often have menus themed around the show in residence. For Sunset Boulevard, there was a themed menu priced at £24.50 for two courses, or £29.50 for three. You can also keep your table for the interval, and pre-order deserts or drinks.

The restaurant is pretty, but felt a little crowded to me. It could have done with a few less tables, as navigating between them was a bit challenging. Unfortunately, it took about fifteen minutes before anybody came to take any kind of order, and then I could see our drinks sitting on the bar getting warm before anyone brought them over (which ended up being after our starters arrived).

Ham and Eggs Benedict

I started with Ham and Eggs Benedict. The ham was salty and delicious, topped with a perfectly oozy poached egg. I am very particular about poached eggs, and this was spot on. I would have liked a little more sauce, but what was there was delicate and complemented the ham well.

Soused Mackerel

Dave chose Fillet of Soused Mackerel with fennel and dill remoulade on toasted rye bread. The mackerel was excellent; meaty and plentiful, and held it’s own against the strong fennel.

Belly Pork

For mains, we both chose Pork Belly served with sea salt crackling, apple and celeriac puree, tenderstem broccoli and creamed mash. The sides were fabulous. The mash and the puree were both smooth and creamy, and the broccoli still had good bite. Dave’s pork was very good, but mine was very dry and I ended up not finishing it. The crackling was also dry as a bone, but somehow chewy. Dave managed to get through his, but mine was totally inedible as I couldn’t even get my teeth through it. I suspect the plate had sat under a heat lamp on the pass, which would explain why the crackling was under and over done at the same time.

After we’d eaten, we had about forty minutes until curtain up, so we had time to order desserts. Sadly, by the time a waiter came near us, we did not have time for dessert before curtain. I asked for the bill and to pre-order some interval drinks, and was met with great huffing and was told, “Oh…well, I guess you can.” Who knew the advertised option to pre-order to your table for the interval was such a nuisance? By the time a card machine arrived and we’d paid, we had to run to our seats, and were sat with only a minute or two to spare.

It was opening night of Sunset Boulevard, the main house was very full, and they had invited press in, so I am willing to give the Circle the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I do think a theatre’s own restaurant should be able to handle a pre-theatre menu in a timely fashion. Our starters were excellent, and Dave really enjoyed his main course, but mine wasn’t great and the crackling was frankly shocking. I would like to go back and try it again, not on press night, and see if the service is better.

We paid in full for our food and drinks. All words, images and opinions are my own. I didn’t tell them I’m a blogger. 

Girls Night In at Aluna, Birmingham

A little while back, I joined some of my favourite bloggy types at Aluna for Girls’ Night In. Being the sophisticated women we are, myself, Laura, Fay and Emma made a beeline for the bar to get the drinks in.

Aluna Birmingham

Prosecco

Aluna is a sleek space, with dark wood, twinkly lights and lots of cool framed things all over the walls. I grabbed myself a pink Prosecco and set off for wander around the bar and restaurant for a nose about. Aluna are big fans of alginate, a liquid that you drip into water and it creates little jelly like pearls (a little like tiny versions of the bubbles in bubble tea). The Prosecco had a healthy scoop of these bubbles in, which I have to confess rather spoilt it for me. Good Prosecco but the jelly bits make a horrible texture on the top like drinking frogspawn.

Mangolian

Frogspawn abandoned, it was time for a cocktail masterclass. I’ve done approximately a million masterclasses at events this year and have accepted my fate as one who cannot free pour or properly shake a cocktail without making a right mess, so I opted to watch. Our bartender talked us through the making of the Mangolian (£7.95). Mango fruit juices are sloshed liberally over chunks of dry ice, which immediately billow clouds of ‘smoke’ from the top of your glass. For me, this was far, far too sweet, tasting mostly like a J2O, but if you have a sweet tooth, this is a popular option.

Lava Lamp

More dry ice and alginate bubbles came along in the Lava Lamp (£7.95), which is another fruity concoction. The dry ice causes the bubbles to dance about in the glass, much like a, you guessed it, lava lamp. Again, far too sweet for my taste, but good fun.

Asian Infusion

Bar flair

Rum Punch

Bush Fire

Next, our barmen took to theatrics to show off some more of the menu. There were clouds of tumbling dry ice, there were infusions, there were flames. The Asian Infusion (£22 – designed for two people to share) and the Rum Punch (not listed on the website, so I can’t find the price, sorry) were fun to watch being made, but were, as before, a little sweet for my taste. More my speed was the Bush Fire (£8.95), which has a good slug of sloe gin. Bar flair is cool, but there does come a point where I just want a good, strong cocktail.

Margarita

Sidecar

Happily, we were able to harass a barman into assisting us on our quest for a short, strong drink. After knocking back a shot of Tequila each with said barman, we were rewarded with a round of Margaritas and Sidecars. Simple, but classics for a reason.

Our next mission was befriending the restaurant manager. Aluna is owned by the same chaps who own the lovely Siamais, which I visited a while back and loved. Being the greedy piglets dedicated food bloggers we are, we asked if we could get something more substantial than the few and far between canapés circulating to get our teeth into.

Aluna Food

Massaman Curry

The menu is mainly Thai, which is one of my very favourite cuisines. A few taster plates appeared, including some delicious Massaman Curry. I’m actually heading back next week to try the food properly, so I’ll save in depth thoughts for then, but the tasters we had were very tasty and I’m looking forward to a proper try of the menu.

We had an enjoyable evening at Aluna and their staff are certainly enthusiastic, friendly and happy to oblige annoying requests from bloggers. The theatrics with the cocktails would be great fun for a girly night out (maybe a hen party?) but personally, I am more interested in quality cocktails than juggling of barware. The theatrical cocktails were too sweet for me, but when we asked for the classics, they were well made and well presented. I’m excited to go back and try the food!

I was a guest of Aluna and Delicious PR. Our food and drinks were complementary, but I was not obliged to write a blog post. All words, images and opinions are my own.  

Sunset Boulevard at Birmingham Hippodrome

Sunset Boulevard is a classic. The Tony-award winning musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber has been on the circuit for twenty-five years and remains one of the greatest and most beloved productions. The UK touring production, starring Ria Jones and Danny Mac, landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night, bringing glamour and golden age Hollywood with it.

Sunset Boulevard

The staging is ingenious, with clever use of projection to send flickering black and white film across the stage, and a large screen which splits to reveal Paramount Studios, a 50s diner, or the crumbling mansion of Norma Desmond. The staircase in Desmond’s home is used to full advantage, with three interlocking pieces that can be split and revolved to  create new locations. Hollywood is ever present, with homages to techniques of the era, most notably in Joe Gillas‘s flight from debt collectors. His car is a revolving set piece, spun by a stage hand, surrounded by lights and cameras, while a screen behind the vehicle shows the road flashing by. Clever and effective.

Sunset Boulevard UK tour

For those unfamiliar with the show, the musical is based on the film of the same name. Struggling script writer, Joe Gillas, crosses paths with silent movie star Norma Desmond. Pushed out of stardom by the arrival of talking pictures, Desmond has become obsessed with her return to the silver screen and draws in Gillas to help her create the script that will be her grand comeback. She becomes obsessed with Gillas, and he becomes entrapped by the faded star and her world of luxury.

Danny Mac

Norma Desmond and Joe Gillas

Danny Mac was a real surprise. The Hollyoaks  and Strictly Come Dancing alumni could easily have been eclipsed by the huge onstage personality of Norma Desmond, but Mac‘s turn as Joe Gillas was accomplished and skilled. Gillas is not always a terribly likeable character, but Mac was able to make you sympathise with him throughout. His voice is strong, and his rendition of Sunset Boulevard, which takes a big voice to deliver successfully, is wonderful. His chemistry with both his leading ladies, Ria Jones and  Molly Lynch, is palpable. I only wish we could have seen more of his dancing, as his tango with Jones  was a true pleasure to watch.

Sunset Boulevard Birmingham Hippodrome

Max Von Meyerling

Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer is a delight to watch, with her innocence providing a wonderful foil to the increasingly deluded and manipulative DesmondAdam Pearce‘s beautiful voice shines in a mix of deep bass and astonishing tenor, as Max Von Meyerling. His performance is a wonderful mix of sinister butler, devoted servant and occasional comedic relief in his interactions with Gillas. The whole cast are energetic and drive the story forward with gusto.

Norma Desmond

Stealing the entire show, naturally, though is Norma DesmondRia Jones understudied, and filled in for, Glenn Close at the London Coliseum and it is easy to see why she earned standing ovations every night. Desmond is an over-the-top character and it would be easy to tip into farcical, but Jones delivers a  Desmond who is genuinely tragic, gloriously mad, and often frightening in her obsessive mission to prevent Gillas from ever leaving her. Her performance is an expert study on the great divas, and she often reminded me of icons including Dame Shirley BasseyLiza Minelli, and of course, Glenn CloseRia Jones‘s voice is truly remarkable, and her songs were met with a moment of stunned silence before thunderous applause. She is a triumph.

All in all, this is a remarkable piece of theatre, and a must see for fans of Lloyd Webber scores. The UK tour is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 18 November, and the tour continues until the end of April. Dates and tickets can be found here.

We paid in full for our tickets. Nobody knew I was a blogger. All opinions and words are my own. Images are production stills from Sunset Boulevard